New Castle News

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May 2, 2014

Hilcorp objects to delaying hearings

NEW CASTLE — Hearings scheduled for next week on Hilcorp Energy Co.’s application for forced pooling may be delayed again.

Late Thursday, Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection officials were reviewing a letter from hearing officer Michael Bangs stating he cannot rule on three landowners’ request for a delay until DEP Secretary Christopher Abruzzo decides whether they can intervene in the matter.

In this landmark case, Hilcorp is attempting to use a 1961 state law to force reluctant landowners to sign leases that would allow the company access to gas and oil under their land.

Both Hilcorp and the DEP have said in their filings that they do not object to the landowners intervening in the case, which would give them legal status as parties to the lawsuit. Currently, only DEP and Hilcorp have this status.

Hilcorp is against delaying the forced pooling hearings any longer.

In a motion filed with the DEP Thursday, the Texas oil and gas drilling company said it already has waited long enough for its request to be heard and opposes the month’s delay asked for to allow the attorney representing three of the property owners to prepare.

However, in a motion filed Wednesday, the DEP said it has no objection to a delay “to allow the property owners a meaningful opportunity to participate in the hearing on the application, as is their right” under state law.

Hilcorp’s attorneys — Kevin L. Colosimo and Daniel P. Craig of Burleson in Canonsburg — stated that if the hearing goes on as scheduled Wednesday and Thursday, the company will have waited 294 days for the hearing to take place since filing its application.

The two attorneys said the landowners have known about the company’s request since Oct. 5.

The case has been delayed several times because of questions about jurisdiction.

Attorney Omar K. Abuhejleh, who represents three of the landowners, has asked for a 30-day continuance to prepare. The landowners retained him only last week to represent them in the hearings.

Previously, they had no legal representation but Abuhejleh has offered to represent them without charge.

In its filing Wednesday, the DEP also addressed Abuhejleh’s statement in his petition to intervene that the DEP’s pre-trial statement makes it “ ... impossible to discern what it attempts to prove or disprove at the upcoming hearing.”

Donna Duffy, regional counsel for the DEP, stated in Wednesday’s filing that the “formation of the DEP’s position on the application is not formed until the entire administrative process is complete, not just the filing of the application and the hearing.”

Duffy also asked that the hearing officer set a deadline for any more property owners to intervene in the case because several other property owners without leases remain in the forced pooling unit but are not being represented by Abuhejleh.

(Email: grzebieniak@ncnewsonline.com)

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